Pig producers are being urged to work closely with their nutritionists to look at flexible feeding strategies as high feed prices continue to leave margins tight.

Agustina Rodriguez, technical nutritionist consultant at Elanco, said although cash flow problems had eased a little as the farm gate price per kg increased, pig producers were still in a loss-making position.

“Feed has always made up the largest share of outgoings on pig farms, however this has risen by more than 10% in recent months and it now contributes to more than 80% of costs,” added Dr Rodriguez.

“To mitigate this, producers and their advisers need to take a flexible approach towards nutritional strategies, looking to alternative options where possible, while still meeting the pigs’ needs.”

She advised to formulate rations as tightly as possible, collaborate between producers, vets and nutritionists, and optimise feed conversion ratio (FCR) –, as well as thinking about the sow and her requirements to perform well.

“However, even if all these areas are optimised, if the pig’s gut isn’t working properly, then it won’t be utilising the feed as efficiently as it could be,” she added. “Poor gut health can lead to loose stools and a proportion of nutrients being bypassed through the animal, meaning nutrient absorption is reduced.”

To help avoid this, Dr Rodriguez said nutritionists should consider carefully incorporating additives – such as enzymes, pro and pre-biotics and synthetic amino acids – into rations.

“Any changes to the diet should offer a return on investment, whether that’s an improvement in gut health, FCR, growth or potentially a reduction in antibiotic use,” she added.

“Enzymes can be a useful tool to help enhance the feed efficiency of a diet. For example, incorporating a specific enzyme which neutralises ß-mannans, such as Hemicell XT, into the ration can stop energy being used unnecessarily, by breaking down these anti-nutritional factors, allowing pigs to focus on growth and productivity.”

She added that nutrient-sparing enzymes could also offer more flexibility in nutritional strategies. They can enable dietary protein to be lowered slightly in the starter and weaner diets, decreasing costs while maintaining the same performance, or they can be added without reducing other raw materials in the creep and starter rations, helping to produce a stronger, healthier piglet with superior intestinal integrity.